On November 2, 2012 — a few days after Hurricane Sandy — the Post Road street lights were still out. Crossing the street near CVS, Cara Macdonald was hit by a car.
Miraculously, the Staples High School sophomore broke no bones. Doctors said that because she never saw the car coming, she was relaxed — not tensed, which leads to greater injury.
But she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
After a week in a coma, she woke up at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, New York. Her first memory is of seeing her shaved head in a mirror. Confused, she thought she was looking at her brother.
Cara spent 75 days in the hospital. Her time was filled with therapy: physical (she had to learn to walk again); speech; occupational (lots of iPad games for multi-tasking and cognitive development), even eating (she could not swallow properly).
Weekdays were lonely. On weekends, Staples friends, teammates from Saugatuck Rowing Club and cousins visited regularly.
She spent Christmas in the hospital. For some reason, she thought she would not get any presents. She was pleasantly surprised when she did.
By the last couple of weeks — when she was fully aware of what was going on — Cara was ready to go home.
Doctors said regaining her executive functioning — planning, organizing — would be tough. She did not believe them. But, she realized, it now takes more effort and energy to “actively think and plan.” She writes everything down, and records it on her iPhone.
She made it home on January 11. Because she could not stay awake all day, tutors came in.
By March, Cara was back at Staples. She moved down, from honors classes to A level. She dropped Chemistry completely. It was, she says, “too confusing.”
But she finished the year with her class. She learned to accept that she was not at “the same level” she had been.
“That was tough,” she admits. “I’d had a 3.8 GPA, I was headed for AP classes. Now certain parts of my brain don’t function the same way. My sister and brother go to Yale and Vanderbilt. Now I wasn’t going to go to a school like that.”
However, she realizes, “I know I can find a school I’ll love, and be successful at.” She plans to work in the nutrition field.
Cara’s therapist convinced her that “I have a lot going for me. I still get good grades. And I have a real story to tell.”
She credits her parents with letting her “go at my own pace. They realize I need time, and they give it to me.”
Her teachers have been great. “We talk a lot,” she says. “They really help me plan and organize.”
Cara’s longtime friends — Hannah Berggren, Malin Hovstadius, Dylan Donahue, Sophia Corde and Amy Jeanneret, who was with her the night she was struck but has since moved — have been fantastic.
They have supported her — and done even more. Last year they raised $1,200 for Blythedale. This year, they hope to top that amount.
They’ve sold candles, and solicited funds on Crowdrise. They’re collecting money through Friday; that day, they’ll donate it during a special concert at Blythedale, featuring Colbie Caillat and The Fray.
Meanwhile, Cara reflects on the lessons she’s learned over the past 13 months.
One is patience. Another is to take nothing for granted. “I couldn’t even talk for a long time,” Cara says. Her voice now is strong — in more ways than one.
A 3rd lesson is the value in working hard to get something back. A 4th is the importance of accepting what she can and cannot do.
Cara has learned one more thing, she says. “Take the crosswalk!”